By Christopher Tobutt
A huge plume of thick black smoke that could be seen for miles was the sign of a fierce fire at the Vehicle Recycling plant, adjacent to the George Town Landfill on Friday 24 January. Cayman Islands Fire Service crews arrived at the site at 8.30 am where they found that a deep-seated fire had started among some of the vehicles there.
Despite their initial efforts to control the fire, it continued to grow, so that by midday ferocious flames could be seen through the tall hedge that separates the dump from the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, and sometimes loud explosions could be heard, too.
CIFS worked closely with DEH colleagues and plant operators to move surrounding vehicles not involved in the fire, so that it could be extinguished more quickly. Further assistance was given from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service helicopter, equipped and thermal imaging cameras to help crews pinpoint the hottest parts of the spreading blaze.
Residents at the nearby Lakeside condominium development were nervously watching the blaze develop, and expressed concern about the tall, black, dense plume of smoke which rose above the complex. One of the building managers said that she had been trying to find out about the blaze and any danger that it might pose, by repeatedly phoning the fire department; but there had been little response, apart from an advisory warning to keep doors and windows shut because of the nature of the toxic fumes. “I’m not going outside to breathe that in,” she said, adding that whatever she found out, she would communicate to the residents.
Shortly after midday the RCIPS blocked off the southbound lane of the Esteley Tibbetts highway (the lane nearest to the blaze) but this was reopened again by about 3pm, when the fire seemed to be under control, judging by the much smaller smoke plume.
Several schools closed early, because of safety fears arising from the blaze. George Town Primary’s sports day at the Truman Bodden Sports Complex was postponed, and preschoolers at Cayman International School were also sent home after their sports day was cancelled.
“It is unfortunate that the GTPS sports day has ended earlier than expected. While we fully understand that there may be inconvenience caused as a result of this, student safety is our priority. Based on an advisory by the Fire Service and Department of Environmental Health, our staff took proactive measures to prevent any potential negative effects on our students and staff who may inhale the smoke fumes,” commented Tammy Hopkins, Director of Education Services.
Ms. Hopkins added further, “Research has shown that the inhalation of smoke can cause irritation to children’s breathing passages and can result in wheezing and other respiratory problems. While students are scheduled to be at the school’s sports day, we want to ensure that no student or staff access the compound for the rest of the day.”